Leon Henry, Derrick, Jaeden and Sean Yoes, host of AFRO First Edition
Fifty-year-old Ray Carter said he had it rough as a child, growing up in Brooklyn. He made a good life for himself – he has served in the military, as a deputy sheriff, and currently works at Morgan State as an academic advisor – but he thinks if he’d had a role model as a child, he could have gone even further.
That is why he is a “big” in the Greater Chesapeake branch of the nationwide program Big Brothers Big Sisters. The program pairs up boys and girls with adult mentors. Carter has been with the group four years, but has been mentoring for about 20. He says he has always felt the need to give back.
“Innately, I was born to help somebody,” Carter said. He said his grandmother told him that when it comes to your time on earth, the day you are born and the day you die are the least important parts. “Celebrate your dash,” is a mantra he attributes to her. “What did you do while you were here? Who did you help?”
Carter’s “little” is 13-year-old Vernon. He says the young man is shy, loves sports, loves to draw, and, surprisingly, likes the R&B group New Edition. Carter took him to see them perform in Baltimore recently. He has also taken Vernon with him to work on Morgan’s campus, to sporting events, and the circus. It is not all fun and games, though. Carter says Vernon knows that he can call any time for help with homework or life advice.
“I try to keep it one hundred. You have choices. I’m not trying to stop you,” Carter said. He said that Vernon often sees drug dealers in his Baltimore neighborhood. He tells him that they may look like they are doing well, but their success is short-lived. “Understand the consequences. There is no retirement in drug dealing. I ask him, ‘do you know any retired drug dealers?’ There’s always another path.”
He has stern words for anyone who complains about kids today. “If you have a complaint about anything in youth society, if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If you’re looking at it and not trying to help it, you’re part of the problem too,” he said. “You see these kids, they are lost. I’m not asking you to save the world, I’m asking you to save this child. Don’t tell them not to do something, show it.”
Leon Henry, the director of Outreach for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, says the group is always looking for adults to serve as mentors, especially Black men. He said the group works with children all over, but there is a desperate need in Baltimore City.
“Last year we matched over 200 Black boys in the city. What I want to get across is there are hundreds more. That’s just chipping away at a larger number.”
He says that anyone can volunteer. “It’s a fairly easy process. It’s everything from a doctor to someone who sweeps the streets, everyone is involved. All of our mentors are trained. All the boys are kids who want to be in the program.”
Derrick Peoples is another Black man who decided to help fill the gap. The 38-year-old Columbia resident has been “big” to Jaeden for about a year now. He had been looking for somewhere to volunteer his time and his sister told him about Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“Amazing, that’s the only word I can use to describe it. My little and I have a great relationship. It feels like he’s my son. We’re very comfortable with each other.”
Peoples says Jaeden is 10-years-old, incredibly funny, and wise beyond his years.
“It’s more of a spiritual thing for me. I wanted to do something where I could pour my life into someone else,” Peoples said. “Before it got into this I never thought I would have anything to give. The things that come at you on a daily basis, you really don’t see what you can give someone else.”
Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters here: http://goo.gl/ZJ0xlq